Guest Blogger PostAs I keep walking this path in order to become an Instructional Designer, there are a number of things that I carry with me. Probably, the one that I keep closer and review every now and then is “the media debate”: does a medium influence learning or is it just a mere vehicle for instruction delivery?  The reason why I bring this up is because I have been considering the connection between SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) and learning. Has SCORM anything to do with learning?

If one had to define what SCORM is and does without getting into very technical details, it could be said that SCORM is a combination of a number of related technical standards, guidelines, and specifications that tries to establish a common approach to developing e-learning products (Loidl & Paramythis, 2003; ADL website).  SCORM provides a way to deliver e-learning content and systems in different platforms, environments, and learning management systems (LMSs) (Buendía & Hervás, 2006). It’s recyclable, including, within every course, a description of the elements used so they can be searched later for new course. By doing this, the goal is to make content accessible, interoperable, durable, and reusable (Newman, 2002).

In order to benefit from all this alleged advantages, courses need to be SCORM conformant or compliant. This seems to be a point in which some developers and practitioners start to question the applicability of SCORM across the full spectrum of areas in education, instruction, and training. As Phillip Hutchison says in his blog, “full-blown SCORM is impractical and unreliable.” He supports this statement by pointing out that, although SCORM theorists have provided e-learning developers with a set of guidelines to integrate shareable content objects (SCOs), shareable content by itself is problematic to implement on a wide range of courses unless those courses are developed for the same company, institution, need.  Others point out that SCORM’s seems to focus on massively cataloguing SCOs into repositories but does not do a good job in helping tutors/instructors to adapt content to specific learners (Bohl et al, 2002).

On this same line, there have been voices that have harshly criticized ADL’s initial claim about SCORM being pedagogically neutral and relevant at the same time (Friesen, 2003).  This seems not possible since relevance focuses more on the connection of learner to content and, in order to reach neutrality, standards and specifications need to focus on the connection of delivery system to content .  For these and other reasons, some, like Aaron Silver does in his blog, are already pointing towards a future in which SCORM, though useful and efficient for what it is meant to do, will not eliminate the need for using other tools in combination.

Has SCORM anything to do with learning, then? Well, I believe that, actually, it does.  Using Clark’s well known analogy of the truck that delivers our groceries and its influence in nutrition, a question arises when considering the SCORM initiative: What if the delivery truck only brings items from only one food group? Wouldn’t this influence nutrition? In this same way, since SCORM imposes a series of technical specifications and standards to e-learning course development, isn’t this technology influencing the way instruction works and, ultimately, enforcing a very specific culture of e-learning?

What do you all think?


Clark, R.E. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-459.

Bohl, O., Schellhase, J., Sengler, R., and Winand, U. (2002). The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) – A critical review. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Computers in Education (ICCE02), Auckland, New Zealand, 950 – 951. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from:

Buendia, F. and Hervas, A. (2006, July). An evaluation framework for e-learning platforms based on educational standard specifications, In Proceedings of the Sixth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies, p.184-186. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from:

Friesen, N. (2003). Three objections to learning objects. In Mc Greal, R. (ed.), Online education using learning objects. London: Taylor & Francis Books Ltd. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from

Loidl, R. and Paramythis, A. (2003). Distance education – a battlefield for standards. In Szücs, A. Wagner, E., and Tsolakidis, C., (Eds.) The quality dialogue. Integrating quality cultures in flexible, distance and elearning; Proceedings of the 2003 EDEN Annual conference, Rhodes, Greece.

Newman, T. (2002, December 6). SCORM in a teacup. Retrieved on Feb 8, 2003, from Training Foundation Web site at

Guest blogger: Federico Gomez works as an associate professor for Christian Brothers University in Memphis, where he teaches Spanish language and literature courses. He has a background in Psychology and Methodology for the Behavioral Sciences, and he is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. His research interests include web-based instruction, non-profit training, open-source technology for education, and constructivist approaches to instruction. He would like to work in non-profit related instruction and community building through instructional design in the future.

Image from dgroth at

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

8 Thoughts on “SCORM, standards in e-learning, and the groceries truck

  1. Pingback: Online Learning - What Makes an Online Learning System?

  2. Fede,

    Thank you for the clarification about SCORM. It helped me get a grasp of it a bit more. I guess, until I get involved in developing a SCORM compliant instructional unit, I will not be able to understand how it really works. However, I agree with you on Clark’s analogy. SCORM may impose certain delimitations on design and I wouldn’t favor that. On the other hand, SCORM may be useful within big organizations where following certain standards in design enables conformity of use and distribution among the learners

  3. Hey Fede,

    Thanks for the great post. You have touched on two great topics: SCORM and the the media debate. Your definition of SCORM has helped me understand it, but I agree with Suha in that I think I may need to get my hands on it (or in it) before I truly understand it. I agree with your analogy and position that SCORM could have a serious impact on learning. I had not really considered the impact that SCORM could have on learning so I have (thus far) kind of put it in the background and have not paid much attention to it. Because of this post, I may need to reconsider some of the implications that SCORM could have on learning in the future.

  4. After reading your blog, I had to research or learn more about SCORM. By the way, this research was done on the Web which in itself has a set of standards for publishing content. I can probably grasp only the surface of the impact that SCORM may have on eLearning, but can connect with the idea of having specifications whereby content can be transferred or reused across different platforms. In my readings, it was stated that SCORM makes the LMS “smart” in that it knows what is to be delivered to the learner and when (Dodds, 2007).

    Dodds, Philip. (2007). SCORM. Retrieved February 15, 2010 from

  5. Federico on February 16, 2010 at 6:09 am said:

    I am with you all in the same boat about needing to know more about SCORM. I tried to be objective and present it as a tool useful for certain things but not others. This is what I got after some research. Suha, I agree also about the limitations to design. Still, I can see that a certain “culture of training” based in fast delivery, on-demand/on-need bases, and mainly corporate would welcome SCORM for the possibilities of reusability and fast development. With SCORM, I suspect, once you have developed some training that is SCORM coformant or compliant, that first training probably becomes a template of sorts for future development. I am as idealist as many in aspiring to a better instructional design that takes the necessary time to produce a product of quality. But reality seems to point in the direction that “time” is normally too short for that approach. Seems to me that SCORM provides companies a way to unify and reuse. However, I need to be honest and say that I am afraid this way of working makes designs less unique both in the graphic and content treatment.

  6. Federico,

    This post is helpful as I am creating module prototypes for a class project. The modules will need to be placed in a course management system that is, of course, SCORM compliant. I have not had prior dealings with SCORM. Mainly because I’ve used other ways to collect data when creating instructional units; however, I came to appreciate what SCORM can do in my initial testings. I created an Adobe Captivate module (which allows SCORM 1.2 and 2004 standards) for an organization that wanted to use Adobe Connect to collect the data from the module. As a test, I changed a few data collection settings in Captivate and added that module to another CMS that used SCORM. The module transferred beautifully and the quiz data was collected the same. There is something to be said about having a standard.

  7. While the limits SCORM could possibly impose on designing instruction are real, I must agree with Stacy that there is something to be said about having a standard. Being in compliance may allow your instruction to reach a larger audience and take away some of the headache of worrying about transferring your instruction to a new LMS or platform. I am looking at this from a developer’s point of view and have not previously considered how learning may be impacted. I think their is always some backlash to standardization (think IEEE), but eventually we learn to get creative within the limits..

    Thanks, Fede, for tackling this issue. I am sure there is a lot more discussion to come!

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